Animal or Winter Solstice

Nonfiction / Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach


:: Animal or Winter Solstice  ::

There is something moving inside our walls. Something trying to get out or work its way in deeper.  
Something animal. Alive. I heard it first as scratching in the middle of the night, a sound soft
enough, it could have been my husband, moving his calloused big toe against the sheets or the dog,
twitching in her sleep, her long nails grazing the hardwood, or my son, clawing at the shelf beside his
bed with nails chewed down to skin. The next night, again peeing in the dark after again being
woken by my child screaming out for me, I thought it could have been the toilet tank, something
loose, unhinged perhaps, the way parts of me are slowly coming undone with each sleepless night.
My child’s screams lodged between the cartridges of my neck and ear so every turn of the head
creeks or pops, quiet, but noticeable if you are close. But the night before longest night of the year,
I swear I heard teeth. And an unsteady rhythm, like a woodpecker unable to keep time against the
bark. But this is no bird. This, inside our walls, is wingless and angry. The sound got closer and
louder, chewing, grating, incessant. I pressed my palm to the wall and nearly thought I felt it. Its
longing to be anywhere else. I banged with the heal of my hand, so loud and hard the shampoo fell
down to the shower tile. For a moment, it silenced. I kept my palm on the wall, willing it to stay that
way. Quiet. My child was still asleep. I knew I didn’t have long before he’d be awake again. The
gnawing and scraping returned. Parenthood, a repetition to a point beyond singularity. We tuck
and kiss and hug and calm and hold until everything feels like one long night, indiscernible from another.
Even touch, so repeated it becomes almost unfelt. Almost. I thought I saw a crack begin to form in
the drywall, but I have terrible eyesight. I trust my hands more, and the wall felt cold, smooth,
unruptured. Today, the sun will appear to stand still at its lowest point. I will listen for the moment
it sinks below the horizon. It will be like a slow, steady drip from the faucet. So soft and consistent,
we don’t hear it after a while. I’m sure we will get used to the animal too. It will find a way out or
burrow so deep we forget it was ever there. But I know its body’s longing. The teeth and nails will
persist, eating, moving, devouring the house while we sleep. I know it’s not its fault. Impulse.
Repetition. Animal. How can I blame it for its nature of need unbound by want. Tomorrow,
the night will be a glimmer shorter. We won’t feel this difference. My son will still wake screaming.
Mama! a sound more animal than love. Mama! a hunger. He will refuse anyone else’s hands or words.
He will demand more light and touch, no matter how bright or long each last. He will demand
proximity. The earth closer to the sun. His body close to mine. My palm on the wall close to the
trace of an animal. He will lose his breath and hide under the blankets on the floor at the foot of our
bed. Close your eyes, my love, find your way towards sleep and you won’t hear terror tearing up the

From the writer


:: Account ::

While I had writ­ten most­ly poet­ry, when I had to teach a cre­ative non­fic­tion course, I began to write along­side my stu­dents, read­ing vora­cious­ly and try­ing to learn the form of the lyric essay as I was teach­ing it. So, for the last few years, I have been work­ing on what I now real­ize are linked lyric essays that deal with par­ent­ing a neu­ro­di­verse child with ADHD and autism spec­trum dis­or­der. I often found myself writ­ing the same moment, event, or sto­ry, in both poet­ry and prose, try­ing to fig­ure out which genre and form was the bet­ter fit. With “Ani­mal or Win­ter Sol­stice,” I felt myself enter a hybrid space that found a union between poem and essay. The prose blocks allow me to linger and med­i­tate on some­thing longer, and with a more nar­ra­tive pro­gres­sion, than I might in a lin­eat­ed lyric, but the inden­ta­tions, poet­ry-like, felt nec­es­sary for the move­ment of the piece, the sta­t­ic pro­gres­sion of time.  This was the first lyric essay I wrote where with­in me, and on the page, the gen­res weren’t fight­ing against each oth­er, but rather com­ing togeth­er to cre­ate some­thing new. This was the first piece I did not feel the need to write as both prose and poet­ry, because it had found a way of being both. Tell Me it Gets Eas­i­er, the larg­er book project this piece comes from, is an unfil­tered account of tak­ing care of the many bod­ies depend­ing on mine, while con­tin­u­ing to take care of my own through the act of writ­ing. In oth­er essays from this project, the strug­gles with par­ent­ing over­lap with pro­cess­ing the war in my birth­place, Ukraine, as my now sev­en-year-old express­es his own fas­ci­na­tion with death, vio­lence, and the grotesque. In the essays, I am reach­ing towards under­stand­ing him as much as I am try­ing to under­stand myself, and what it means to be his mother.


Julia Kolchin­sky Das­bach ( emi­grat­ed from Dnipro, Ukraine as a Jew­ish refugee in 1993, when she was six years old. She is the author of three poet­ry col­lec­tions: 40 Weeks (YesYes Books, 2023), Don’t Touch the Bones, and The Many Names for Moth­er, win­ner of the Wick Poet­ry Prize (Kent State Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2019) and final­ist for the Jew­ish Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Poet­ry, Ploughshares, and Amer­i­can Poet­ry Review, among oth­ers. Her recent awards include the Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Review Poet­ry Prize and a Sus­tain­able Arts Foun­da­tion Grant. She is the author of the mod­el poem for “Dear Ukraine”: A Glob­al Com­mu­ni­ty Poem She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a new poet­ry col­lec­tion as well as a book of linked lyric essays which grap­ples with rais­ing a neu­ro­di­verse child with a dis­abled part­ner under the shad­ow of the war against Ukraine, Juli­a’s birth­place. She is Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Deni­son Uni­ver­si­ty and lives with her fam­i­ly in Colum­bus, Ohio